I won’t lie – I almost didn’t go to this screening as I’d seen a lot of ‘worst film I’ve even seen’ comments coming in from various festivals and then from the LFF press screening and I wasn’t sure I was definitely going to be able to make it. However being a huge fan of McDonagh’s stage work (I count the original production of The Pillowman at the RNT one of the theatre going highlights of my life) there was no way I was never going to see this film. Although I wasn’t as enamoured with In Bruges as many people were – mostly because I missed the sense of anarchy from his stage productions – I’d been looking forward to his next film for some time. Seven Psychopaths plays out almost like a big screen version of Lieutenant of Inishmore only it’s a missing dog rather than a cat and psycho crook rather than a guy who was thrown out of the IRA for ‘being too mad’ with a whole load of metatextual commentary going on. Oh and bloody violence, lots of that, alongside totally absurd, jet black humour – yep, that’s a McDonagh script!
Marty (Farrell) has some problems. The first of which being that he’s way behind on a screenplay he’s supposed to have delivered already – in fact he hasn’t even started it, well he has the title ‘Seven Psychopaths’. Only he’s only come up with the one – a Buddhist psychopath but he can’t work out how all the homicidal mania and enlightenment go together. Besides which he really wants to write a film that’s not all guns and violence, one that’s about peace and love and humanity. His second problem is drink, which is possibly part of the cause of his first problem. His third problem is a incredibly poor choice in friends – i.e. an out of work actor, Billy Bickle (Rockwell), who makes his money through a dog kidnapping scam and thinks a really great way to help with the psycho problem is to take out an ad asking for the biggest psychos around to call Marty’s own number and offer their stories for the film. One day however Billy and his friend Hans (Walken) are going to mess with the wrong guy’s dog and drag Marty into a whole world of psychopathic violence and general existential despair.
Yes, like its filmic counterpart the Seven Psychopaths that we are watching is a film about humanity and friendship and art that ended up having lots of guns and violence and blood in it anyway. There’s a great moment near the beginning where Billy and Marty are discussing the screenplay problem whilst sitting in a virtually empty cinema watching Takeshi Kitano’s Violent Cop and Marty insists he doesn’t want the film to be all about guys with guns in their hands. The violence is inevitable though as the two tussle over how the film’s going to end – in a hail of bullets or with a fireside heart to heart.
You might think so far so nineties Tarantino with its long stretches of stylised dialogue and classic/cult film references but it’s much less alienating than Tarantino’s approach and somehow manages to be both reflexive yet unpretentious. It’s much all less obvious and if it’s winking at you it’s doing it without looking you in the eye and certainly without waiting for you to wink back. The absurdity of the piece feels totally natural and effortlessly constructed so that all the crazy goings on just seem to roll together with a feeling of ‘of course, it must be so’.
Seven Psychopaths is a totally insane thrill ride of a movie – the sort of film where you feel like jumping up with arms stretched out to the sky and shouting YES! as soon as it’s finished. It’s a fair assumption that a lot of people won’t like this film, it strikes a very specific tone that you either go with or don’t and even those who admired In Bruges might find themselves lost in this film’s comparative lack of control. However, Seven Psychopaths is a hilariously funny black comedy that’s also very smart in its criticism both of itself and of cinema in general. Destined to become a cult classic this is one film too much to miss!